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Harry Potter and the School on Two Hills

Harry Potter and the School on Two Hills

Scholarship award recipients pose at last year's conference. Photo credit: Linda Johnson
Scholarship award recipients pose at last year's high school portion of the conference.
Brenda Lange

Where can one turn to learn about empathy, prejudice, politics, socio-economics, chemistry, physics, mythology, religion and more — all in one place? Maybe surprisingly to some, the series of books about Harry Potter — the young hero in the fictional series by J.K. Rowling — offers just that opportunity.

Chestnut Hill College continues to make it easy and fun to explore the themes around this cultural phenomenon. With each passing year, the Harry Potter Academic Conference has attracted increased attention through the quality of the papers presented, its interdisciplinary approach (rare among academic conferences), and the topical nature of its themes and the renown of the speakers.

Now in its fifth year, the conference has grown from nine presenters in 2012 to 38 in 2015, and from three hours to two days. This year’s conference will be held October 20-21. Its theme is “Tolerance.” www.harrypotterconference.com.

From a simple venue for students and academics to present their reflections on the major themes in Rowling’s literature, it has become an internationally recognized, interdisciplinary academic conference unlike anything else anywhere.

“The conference is integrative, academically rigorous and allows for community involvement,” explains Patrick McCauley, Ph.D., associate professor of religious studies and the conference co-organizer. “Although the last book was published in 2007, this conference provides a forum for new thought on this thought-provoking series.”

Karen Wendling, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, is McCauley’s co-organizer. The pair started co-teaching an honors course in 2009, in which students used J.K. Rowling’s texts as the basis for their final analysis, allowing them to focus on the Harry Potter books. In the course, “The Emergence of the Hero in the Epic Voyage,” the quality of the capstone presentations gave the professors the idea of expanding their audience.

“We recognized the appeal of the series and were interested in analyzing the books within the plot context,” says Wendling. “We wanted to use the books to improve our students’ critical thinking and discussed an interdisciplinary approach to do this.”

In addition to the presentations covering topics in areas ranging from history, political science, philosophy, psychology and the sciences, CHC offers scholarships to high school students who submit winning essays, and welcomes submissions from academics in all disciplines.

Conference plenary speakers:

Anthony (Jack) Gierzynski, Ph.D., is a professor of political science at The University of Vermont. His book, “Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation,” details the influence of the Harry Potter books on the politics of its young readers, many of whom are now voting adults.

Loris Vezzali, Ph.D., is a professor of social psychology at the University of Modena and Reggio in Italy. He has contributed to “The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice” in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (2015). His research illuminates the ways in which reading the Harry Potter books helps diminish stereotypical beliefs and distrust in children, instilling empathy.

Part of a Weekend Package 

The day after the academic conference — October 22 this year — the College Quidditch team competes with other teams from colleges and universities and club teams in the annual Philadelphia Brotherly Love Cup.

Started in 2008 with four teams, the College held an all-CHC tournament and then went on to place third in the 2008 Quidditch World Cup. In 2009, CHC hosted the first Philadelphia Brotherly Love Cup and has hosted up to 16 teams. The CHC team won first place in 2014.

For more information on Harry Potter Weekend activities in Chestnut Hill, Pa. and at Chestnut Hill College, visit www.chc.edu/broomstick.

—Brenda Lange

Posted In: Features